Cool and Green

Ponderosa pines
     For a few days this past week my family and I escaped the heat of southern Arizona and went north to the cool and green mountains.The San Francisco Mountains, just north of Flagstaff, Arizona, are covered with aspen, spruce and ponderosa pine.  Flagstaff, at 7,000 feet elevation (2,135 meters), is surrounded by the world's largest, contiguous ponderosa pine forest.  The diverse terrain in the area ranges from desert cactus through pinon-juniper plateaus, green alpine forests to barren tundra.

Humphrey's Peak
       Humphrey's Peak, the highest mountain in Arizona, stands here at 12, 633 feet (3, 851 meters).  There was still a patch or two of snow visible at the vey top  of the peak.  The mountain ski area gets about 260 inches (660.4 cm) of snow every year.  It was 80 degrees F (27 C) during the day and a cool 50 degrees F (10 C) at night.  Ahhh, relief.

Sunset Crater Volcano
      While we were there, we visited Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument.  Sunset Crater is the youngest volcano in the San Francisco volcanic field 12 miles northeast of Flagstaff.  Its last eruption, about 900 years ago, is the most recent in a six million year history of volcanic activity in the area.

Cinder dune
     There are many cinder dunes in the area.  These are older, smaller volcanos that are covered with cinders from the last eruption of the Sunset Crater volcano.  Vegetation is still slowly returning to the area.  Pink penstemon and scarlet gilia grow in the black cinders in the summer, but we saw only a few.  There is no hiking allowed on the cinder dunes or Sunset Crater volcano because the area is fragile and dangerous.  Lava and cinder are sharp, brittle and unstable.  A fall on it is not a pleasant experience.

Wupakti Pueblo
     We also saw Wupakti Naional Monument 20 miles northeast of Sunset Crater.  This area is dry high desert.  Indigenous Native Americans (Hopi, Zuni, Navajo) built pueblos and farmed here for about 100 years.  The Wupakti Pueblo was built in the 1100s and occupied until about 1250.  It was a multi-level high-rise that had about 100 rooms.

     There is dramatic and abrupt changes in elevation and climate in a relatively short distance as you travel from Sunset Crater volcano to the Wupakti Pueblo area.  The area changes from mountainous ponderosa pine, to middle elevation pinon pine, to grassland, to sparsely vegetated high desert.  This greatly increases the biological diversity of the and and was quite a sight for this gardener to see.


  1. Thanks for the tour. The cinder dunes are very interesting

  2. Thanks for visiting Anita. The dunes were very dramatic to see.

  3. What an amazing view... there is so much natural beauty in this country that we don't truly appreciate (never mind know it's there). The cinder dunes are amazing, as is the Wupakti Pueblo. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks for visiting Cathy and Steve. The cinder dunes were my favorite sight on this vacation.